An Essential Guide to Jewellery from the “Beautiful Era”
Whether you’ve been a long-term reader of Laine Jewellery’s blog, or chanced upon our monthly blog while searching for diamonds online, I’m sure we have at least one thing in common – an appreciation for jewellery and all things pretty.
While I’ve mainly shared practical and technical knowledge on our blog previously, this time let’s delve a bit into art history! To start, I want to introduce one of my favourite historical eras – La Belle Époque.
You may have seen it presented slightly differently – “The Belle Époque”, or simply “Belle Époque” – but they are essentially the same thing. The romantic-sounding name “Belle Époque” is a French term that is literally translated as “beautiful era”, “beautiful age”, or “beautiful century”, a name that aptly captures the glorious essence of this legendary epoch. Here are the highlights you need to know:
What was it?
The Belle Époque was a movement in France in the late 19th century and the turn of the 20th century, whose counterpart is called the Edwardian period in British history. As its name suggests, the Belle Époque was a time of all things beautiful and elegant, a time of increasing wealth and flourishing arts. It celebrated a period of peace, prosperity and an affluence of creative talent in all of the arts, including fashion, literature and jewellery. It was an epoch of beautiful clothes and the peak of luxury living for a select few – the extremely rich and privileged through birth.
When was it?
While there is no universal consensus on the exact year it started and ended, it is generally believed that the Belle Époque started from around 1871, following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The period of beauty and joy ended all too soon, only lasting until the beginning of World War I (the Great War) in 1914.
How did it happen?
After the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Paris was being rebuilt while countries across the world were also finding peace and prosperity in the wake of the turbulence of war. Similar phenomenons around the globe included “The Gilded Age” in the USA before and after the turn of the 20th century; the “Pax Britannica” in England; “The Restoration” in Spain; and in East Asia, the “Meiji Restoration” in Japan. Although World War I was looming on the horizon, western society greatly benefited from the industrial revolution, which contributed to this golden age.
Remarkable Highlights of the Belle Époque
Many of Paris’ most signature landmarks were created during this time and very much reflected the Belle Époque style. These included the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, the Palais Garnier but to count a few.
💜Literature and Art
Literature and art enjoyed a great period of creative evolution, with various movements such as Impression, Cubism and Fauvism thriving in the art world, while graphic designers elevated printmaking to a fine art form.
In terms of literature, Paris became a hub for writers during the Belle Époque, with the most influential figures including Romantic writer Victor Hugo, Naturalist novelist, playwright, and journalist Émile Zola, and short story pioneer Guy de Maupassant.
… and so, let’s look at Belle Époque jewellery
To begin with, the discovery of diamonds in Africa in 1870 caused an increased supply of this precious but formerly rare mineral. The result was the most beautiful diamond rings, earrings, necklaces and other embellishments emerging during the Belle Époque. Due to the demand during this period, jewellery had to look beautiful and stay beautiful for as long as possible. The world's most famous jewellery houses – such as Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels – all happened to be founded in the early twentieth century.
To be precise, Belle Époque included 3 periods of jewellery design: the Arts and Crafts movement, which began as a rebellion against the use of machines in jewellery creation and hence was all hand-fabricated; Art Nouveau, which featured sinuous curves, mythical creatures and the female form; and the Edwardian Era. This blog article will focus mainly on the overarching Belle Époque period.
💜Favourite Materials of the Era
Diamonds in the old mine cut (a rounded, square-shaped diamond with the same number of facets as the modern brilliant cut, which was not yet invented at this point in time, without the exacting proportions that make today’s diamonds sparkle)
Fancy coloured yellow, pink and blue diamond
Precious and semi-precious coloured gemstones in soft shades, e.g. aquamarine and topaz
Demantoid garnet and rubies
Cabochon cut gemstones
Cultured pearls, natural freshwater and saltwater pearls
💜 Common Belle Époque Motifs
Bows and ribbons
Neoclassical and Rococo motifs of 18th-century French courts
Milgrain detailing – a close-set row of metal beads used to border the jewellery
A Belle Époque necklace created by Cartier, featuring foliage motifs and mounted with diamonds.
Ribbons and bows with sinuous lines were popular motifs in Belle Époque jewellery.
Milgrain detailing was featured in many Belle Époque jewellery, usually for decorating the edges or surrounding the gemstones. The fine beaded design of milgrain gives jewellery an antique feel when viewed in modern day.
Image credit: Ritani
💜 Popular Belle Époque Jewellery Items
Brooches: A fashion essential of the era, ranging from basic bar brooches mounted with a single gemstone or series of graduated stones to the more elaborate geometric shapes
Chokers: Also known as “dog collars”, choker-style necklaces popular during this era were elaborately designed and came in many forms, from velvet bands to rows of pearls
Rings: The lovely and understated rings were most often crafted of platinum and set with diamonds and gems with classic Belle Époque motifs. Styles that marked this era often featured milgrain finishing, galleries embellished with reeded decoration, engraved scrolls and tiny diamonds
Dangle and screwback earrings: Dangle earrings overtook small stud earrings in popularity, whereas screwback earrings were invented in 1894 which could be worn without piercings
Necklaces and pendants: Several necklace styles became popular, such as festoon necklaces, which had a simple draped design; Lavaliers, pendulum-style pendants which usually was a locket or a single stone; Sautoirs, a long, roped necklace, most commonly of pearls, ending with a suspended tassel or other ornamental object
A sautoir necklace with diamonds and pearls.
Image credit: Bentley Skinner
Tiaras and hair ornaments: Women’s long hair was usually worn up and decorated with jewels and feathers
Ａ sapphire and diamond tiara in a distinctive Belle Époque style.
Image credit: Christie’s
Feel free to get in touch with Laine Jewellery for recommendations and advice on diamonds or customised rings! I offer free consultation services every Friday at my studio at One IFC, bookings required. Interested parties please make a reservation through Whatsapp or Laine Jewellery’s Facebook page!
Whatsapp: +852 6819 2038